Wood River’s state championship debate team, includes, standing, from left, Lily Worst, Chase Hutchinson, Yara Jabbour Al Maalouf, Sam Burns, Max Mihalic, Connor Hayes, Annie Ashfield, Liza Buell and Matt Reidy. Front, from left, are Michael Madsen, Nathan Stouffer and coach Susan Worst. Not pictured is Clay Cutler. State alternates were Illiah Pfau and Victoria Brown.
Wood River High School’s debate team went to Borah High School in Boise March 14-15 and captured the Class B state debate championship in competition sponsored by the Idaho High School Activities Association (IHSAA).
Capping a successful season debating all over southern Idaho, Wood River’s team of 12 debaters and two alternates turned in solid individual performances among the 20 teams grouped in Class B.
The Class B includes Gem State schools with student populations of 1,219 or fewer for grades 9-12.
Final point totals were very close as Wood River of Hailey claimed its first state debate championship in 10 years and sixth in school history.
Wood River (116 points) defeated the defending Class B champion Bonneville Bees from Idaho Falls (115) by a single point. The progress in one year was noteworthy. Last March, Bonneville (145) finished 62 points ahead of fifth-place Wood River (83).
Fourth-year Wood River head coach Susan Worst called it “a true team effort.”
There was a gap between Wood River, Bonneville and the rest of the Class B schools.
Renaissance High School of Meridian placed third with 97 points and Century High School of Pocatello finished fourth with 79. Wood River’s 4A district opponents Jerome (26), Canyon Ridge (12) and Twin Falls (12) finished far down in the ranks.
Bonneville has been a Class B dynasty in recent years, winning five straight championships. In contrast, Wood River had placed 11th, 5th, 10th and 5th as a team since 2010.
Worst said, “My favorite thing about this victory was that it took the contributions of everyone on the team to achieve it. We needed each person’s best effort, and every one of them went in there and did what needed to be done.”
The team’s championship effort was led by senior Chase Hutchinson. He placed second in Lincoln-Douglas debate after tying for third in that category last year. The winner was Century’s Kitanna Belnap.
As one of Wood River’s captains, Hutchinson has led the team all year, helping to run practices and bringing less-experienced debaters up to speed, Worst said.
“Chase has had a great season,” the coach said.
She added, “I would have liked to see him take home an individual state championship, but that wasn’t the way the final round judges saw it. Part of the challenge of debate competition is its subjectivity. It can be frustrating, but that’s life sometimes. I’m extremely grateful for his leadership and proud of his success.”
Junior Yara Jabbour Al Maalouf, a Wood River exchange student from Lebanon, placed third in Lincoln-Douglas debate at state.
Maalouf, 16, has been a great addition to the Wood River team, and has done very well despite competing in her second language.
“Yara is always looking to learn something new, and always gives 100 percent to whatever she does,” Worst said.
Other Wolverines in L-D at state were seniors Matt Reidy and Max Mihalic.
The state tournament awards points in three different types of debate—Lincoln-Douglas, Public Forum, and Policy.
Lincoln-Douglas is a one-on-one format in which debaters argue a resolution based on values. It can incorporate philosophical arguments as well as evidence and logic. L-D topics change every two months. Debaters at state argued “Resolved: Placing political conditions on aid to foreign countries is unjust.”
Public Forum is a partner event, so two debaters compete together. The state tournament topic had debaters arguing the merits of single-gender classes in public education.
Wood River’s team of freshmen Lily Worst and Nathan Stouffer placed fifth in Public Forum.
The teams of senior Annie Ashfield and junior Liza Buell, and juniors Connor Hayes and Sam Burns, rounded out Wood River’s state Public Forum representatives. Sophomore Illiah Pfau and junior Victoria Brown traveled with the team to Boise as alternates.
Policy Debate is the most evidence-driven and time-consuming of all formats. The topic, which has stayed the same all year, was “Resolved: The U.S. federal government should substantially increase its economic engagement toward Cuba, Mexico or Venezuela.”
Freshmen Clay Cutler and Michael Madsen joined forces to compete as Wood River’s sole policy entry and ended up as finalists.
Wood River’s debate team competes as an IHSAA-sanctioned activity, and students can earn a varsity letter in debate.
Worst is excited about the team’s future, which includes taking Hutchinson and Maalouf, along with senior Wyatt Caccia, to Kansas City for the National Forensic League’s National Tournament in June.
“We are always recruiting, always looking for smart, engaged students who are up for an intellectual challenge, and now, we are looking for folks who can help us defend our state title in 2015.”
Prior to state, Wood River competed in nine tournaments this school year, including a major one at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash., in November. The Wolverine debaters have reached elimination rounds (top 8) at all.
Wyatt Caccia, a second-place L-D finisher for Wood River at state in 2011, and Hutchinson have won first place at invitational tournaments. They also qualified in first and second place for the National Forensic League National Tournament in June in Kansas City, Mo.
Nathan Stouffer and Lily Worst have won individual tournaments at the Novice level. They also teamed up and came in first at the district tournament last month at Jerome High School. Carlos Hurtado Vega came in second at one Novice meet.
Worst said, “As a team, we won the district tournament overall.”
The district consisted of Wood River, Canyon Ridge, Community School of Sun Valley, Jerome, Kimberly (5th overall with 65 points at state) and Twin Falls. Of the 28 state entries from the district, Wood River boasted 12 state representatives.